Another night in the Stanley Cup Playoffs produces another questionable hit that will certainly be debated.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov crushed Sami Vatanen with a hit in the first period of Game 4 between the Lightning and New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.
At game speed, the hit looked clean, with Kucherov making initial contact with Vatanen’s shoulder. But when slowed down, it sure looks like Kucherov’s shoulder made contact with the left side of Vatanen’s head.
The latter clutched his head before struggling to get back to his feet. He headed straight down the tunnel and did not return to the game.
UPDATE: D Sami Vatanen (upper body) is being evaluated and questionable to return. #TBLvsNJD
Henrique scored for the third time in five games on Friday since joining the Ducks and now has six points in that span. That puts him one goal shy of the four he scored in the first 24 games of the season with the Devils. Prior to joining the Ducks, Henrique had one goal in his previous 15 games.
Indeed, Henrique, 27, has found new life on a line with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. The battered Ducks envisioned some adding scoring when they slotted Henrique on the top line in Anaheim and he’s since delivered.
The move has had added benefits as well, including getting Perry going.
Perry has missed a playmaker like Ryan Getzlaf in the middle. Getzlaf has been limited to six games this season due to two separate injuries.
Perry has found some good chemistry with Henrique, managing to score twice in as many games last week, with Henrique playing a part in both tallies. Perry has also returned the favour, assisting on two of Henrique’s three markers.
The Anaheim Ducks need some help offensively and the New Jersey Devils were looking to boost their blue line, so it makes sense that the two consummated a deal Thursday morning, especially considering the trade history between Ray Shero and Bob Murray.
Heading to Anaheim is Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick, while the Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick in 2019 or 2020. Here are those conditions:
“In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” said Devils general manager Ray Shero. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years. When acquiring a defenseman like Vatanen, you have to give back quality assets or players in return. That is the case in this situation with Adam and Joe. Adam has been a key member of our organization for nearly ten years since he was drafted. His contributions both on and off the ice will always be appreciated by our organization and fans. For Joe, this is a great opportunity with a quality organization like Anaheim and I am happy for him.”
Vatanen, who is signed for two more seasons and is averaging 21:06 per game, is a great pickup to a fill a need in New Jersey’s top-four. After missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, Shero gets his highly-touted, puck-moving right shot defenseman. The 26-year-old’s possession numbers are down this season, but I think we can attribute a big part of that due to his pairing with Kevin Bieksa on the back end.
Look at the New Jersey blue line now and it’s one that can get the puck up ice fast and contribute offensively. The emergence up front of Nico Hischier, Brian Gibbons, Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood made Henrique expendable and allowed Shero to deal from an area of strength.
Given their injury woes, the Ducks have been sending Chris Wagner and Derek Grant over the boards to be their top two centers. A change was needed. Henrique’s addition is certainly an upgrade when you look at his 50 goals and 90 points over the last two season. If and when Anaheim gets back to full health, head coach Randy Caryle will have some decent depth to work with and this trade could help keep them afloat as they struggle to get back into playoff contention in the Western Conference.
The Anaheim Ducks are out to win the Stanley Cup now after falling just one win shy of beating the eventual champions in the Western Conference Final. They certainly have the core to go far, but do they have the depth?
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are one of the best offensive duos in the league while Ryan Kesler is a great two-way center that helped improve their second line in his first campaign with Anaheim in 2014-15. However, those three were the only members of the Ducks to record at least 40 points last season, which is part of the reason why Anaheim finished close to the middle of the pack with 2.78 goals per game.
There are reasons to hope for more in 2015-16 though, even if they did lose Matt Beleskey (22 goals) over the summer. The Ducks have added some capable secondary scorers Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, and Chris Stewart, but it’s Jakob Silfverberg that stands out the most among Anaheim’s forwards outside of its top-three. The 24-year-old had 39 points in the regular season, but he broke out in the playoffs with four goals and 14 assists in 16 contests. He meshed well with Kesler in the playoffs after Silfverberg only spent spent about a third of his five-on-five regular season minutes with the second-line center. If the two share the ice more frequently this season, it could result in a significantly improved second line.
Defensively, the Ducks will be anchored by newcomer Kevin Bieksa after losing Francois Beauchemin on the free agent market. That being said, it’s the team’s young defensive core of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler that will go a long way towards determining if this is a successful campaign for Anaheim. They’ll also be leaning heavily on 25-year-old goaltender Frederik Andersen.
The hope is that their younger players have grown thanks to their lengthy playoff run. That needs to be true for the Ducks because while Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are a vital part of their success, they’ve also already reached their peak. If Anaheim is to grow enough to get over the final hurdle standing between it and a championship, then that improvement will have to come from its talented youngsters.